Ellicott City's plan for trolley is out of steam

Delay: Unexpected expenses have caused the town's business association to postpone plans to buy a bus disguised as a streetcar to attract tourists.

September 17, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

After months of anticipation, and a successful fund-raiser, plans for a tourist trolley to cart visitors around historic Ellicott City have been put on hold because of difficulty finding insurance and a part-time driver for the bus, the local business association president said.

It will be at least next year before the town has a trolley to call its own, Ellicott City Business Association President Jared Spahn said, but the group has rented a trolley to run a few times during the holiday season.

The trolley was proposed as a tourist attraction that would help alleviate parking concerns as it shuttled visitors around the historic district.

But the business association, which would own the vehicle, has learned the difference between a great idea and reality, Spahn said.

"The board has been too quick in agreeing to the trolley without finding out the logistics," he said. "We thought it would be very simple to operate the trolley, get insurance and we'd have it going. We found out it wasn't that easy."

Six weeks and $600 worth of advertising for bus drivers netted two applications from people who did not have the required commercial driver's license, he said.

The association encountered a second problem because it was not offering full-time hours, something job-seekers wanted.

An insurance inquiry brought a quote for $16,000 a year, and one proposal from an independent contractor asked for $50,000 to operate the bus four to five days a week for a year, Spahn said.

"It was way out of our price range," Spahn said of the bid. "Right now, until we can find a way to operate the trolley, there's no need to purchase the thing."

Business leaders began working in the spring on plans to pur- chase a trackless trolley - a bus disguised as an old-fashioned streetcar - when two property owners offered $25,000 to help buy one. A used trolley could be acquired for about $50,000.

The trolley was to be a crown in a series of tourist-friendly improvements to the town that included coordinated banners, potted flowering trees on the sidewalk, new maps, quarterly events and regular street sweeping.

In May, the ECBA sponsored Taste of Ellicott City to raise money for the anticipated maintenance of the vehicle.

The event, which raised $20,000, took $150-ticketholders through a progressive dinner in 10 area restaurants.

That money will be used as deposits for renting the trolley during the holiday season, Spahn said.

Fernand Tersiguel, a local restaurant owner who organized the event, said the fund-raiser cost him between $3,000 and $4,000. He said he is disappointed it will not help the association get a trolley of its own.

"I wish we had the trolley, but if they didn't have the money, what can we do?" he said.

Melissa Arnold, head of How- ard County Tourism Council, said that while the town can't miss a trolley it never had, other business leaders have been concerned about the wait.

"People were wondering because there was so much excitement before, so of course there's a new sense of disappointment," she said. "I think what needs to be remembered is Ellicott City is a tremendously popular place. The trolley would've been an added attraction, but [not having one] is not going to make it any less attractive."

Although it is likely the council won't begin soliciting from operators until next year, the community should have the bus for about two weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Spahn said.

"We certainly didn't want to have this big event and nothing come out of it," he said. "It may not happen in the next few months, but I think it's something we're committed to."

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